Dripping Yarns with David Arnold

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MONEY is occupying the thoughts of many fans of the Rooks these days.

Running a football club, even a non-league one like Lewes, costs a lot and when you do not enjoy any windfall cash from a decent run in the FA Cup or FA Trophy then money, or the lack of it, becomes even more crucial.

This season we are fine. The Board set a prudent budget that included no provision for cup run income. Just as well for there wasn’t much (although we are still in with a good shout in the Ryan League Cup).

But even though our crowds have been easily the second highest in the Ryman Premier, you’d be surprised at the impact of VAT (now 20 per cent), discounted season tickets and concessions for student and senior citizen fans on the club’s income from the gate.

On the plus side, the coffers were enormously boosted last season by our many benefactors who kindly put at least £1,000 each into helping get Lewes FC Community Club up and running.

Last summer saw the very successful launch of the Buy a Share initiative that has been supported by nearly 800 people who want to see the Lewes FC football model succeed.

Not for nothing though have the Board set their sights on a target of 2,000 such shareholders by the end of next season. That’s when the master plan states that Lewes must be standing on its own two feet; financially viable so that the income over a season equates to the expenditure – without the need for wealthy individuals to prop up a club that would otherwise be living beyond its means.

That’s not to say that folk with the financial wherewithal aren’t more than welcome to contribute whatever they can; the point is still that no individual can own more than a single share and have more than one vote.

But if we do not find 2,000 shareholders (and to say it is an ambitious target is an understatement) where else can we find money outside of the known and fairly predictable income streams? There was a time when sponsorship income was massive at Lewes. I do believe that in the era when quality costume jewellery purveyors Pinkie Jones was our shirt sponsor, it wasn’t unusual to pull in over £100,000 in a season, way more than what was received through gate income.

Commercial times are hard now and the margins of most businesses, particularly retail, have been squeezed until the pips are squeaking. Substantial sponsorship money is hard to find and what we have achieved doesn’t come anyway near the gate income these days.

Given the stark facts it is not surprising that some debate on the commercial realities of football life has broken out on the Fans Forum. Surprisingly, the exchanges have been remarkably free of doom and gloom, with many positive contributions.

One of the most interesting came from someone using the monicker Mo who appears not even to be an attendee at the Dripping Pan: “Please excuse me infiltrating your forum, but I am only trying to help. If I have understood things correctly you do not appear to have a shirt sponsor paying the club money.

“Why not try the scheme I used when I was commercial manager for a club 20 years ago? (It) involves local companies and individuals entering an annual draw; now it is true that only one entrant can win but nevertheless everyone participating in the draw can have their name on a sponsor’s page in the match programme.

“You hold a draw evening and lay on a buffet with two complimentary tickets supplied per entry. Maybe feature some entertainment. You can set the entry fee at what you like but I’d recommend starting with £100 or £150 per entry. It involves a bit of legwork for the first year but gets easier for year two and so on. Taking into account the size of Lewes and your fan base, the first season should bring in around £15,000 to £20,000.

“Why, you ask, have I bothered to post? Well my late uncle Bill Warner from Talbot Terrace was a great fan of the Rooks from years ago. Anyway, I hope this has been of some help.”

As it happens, something similar to this proposal was done this season in respect of the naming rights for the main stand. The winning business drawn out of the hat was, of course, the Gardener’s Arms and the popular pub’s name is now prominently displayed on the stand.

To complicate matters further, even though the Lewes away shirt bears the name of a national charity this season, real money is actually attached to the deal.

Director Patrick Marber, posting elsewhere on the same thread, said: “The club’s shirts have been sponsored for 2011-2012. A very generous guy came to a game last season, liked what Lewes FC were doing in general and gave our club a substantial donation to support the charity shirts.

“He was thanked when we announced the Maggie’s (Cancer Caring Centres, the charity featured on the Rooks’ away shirts) last summer.

“It won’t always be the case that we can get such a deal for the club. I’m just making the point that our support for various charities doesn’t mean we can’t get sponsorship as well.”

Patrick added: “The Maggie’s (dedicated) game will be against Hendon at the Dripping Pan on March 31.

“It would be great to raise as much money as we can for them at that game. They’re an amazing charity run by brilliant people.”

So you can see there are some great things going on at Lewes FC. Trouble is we need even more money-making initiatives to take us forward toward that goal of financial sustainability.

If you have ideas do feel free to share them. You can feed them in direct to any of the directors on match days. Or put them before the Supporters Club Committee for consideration – email: david@lewesfc.com